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Spaniards Eat Late Not Because They're More Laid Back, But Because Of History

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Ah, Spain...a beautiful European country where the people are as mellow as their meal times. A common misconception is that Spaniards eat late and party even later because they spend a chunk of their afternoons napping. We're here to tell you that that's not the case. So, why do Spaniards snack on tapas into the wee hours? Their country has endured the wrong time zone for more than 70 years.

Tapas and sangria in Mallorca, Balearic island, Spain

Midnight Tapas—In Solidarity

If you stop by a Spanish town for lunch, the story goes that you should watch out for the siestas: Spaniards, it's said, take a two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon. It's also not uncommon for supper to be served at 9 or 10 p.m. It has long been assumed that Spain's late meal times are just a long-standing cultural anomaly, but they actually began fairly recently during WWII, with former Spanish leader General Francisco Franco.

In 1940, Franco changed Spain's time zone by moving the country's clocks one hour forward. Why? To line up with those in Nazi Germany, in solidarity with their cause. As a result, Spain's time zone switched from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to Central European Time (CET), a time zone that generally belongs to regions 2,500 kilometers east of Spain. How did the citizens respond? As the BBC explains: "for Spaniards, who at the time were utterly devastated by the Spanish Civil War, complaining about the change did not even cross their minds." Instead, their 8pm dinners just became a 9pm affair. Eventually, the war ended and the Nazis lost, but Spain still didn't return to GMT.

The Sun Also Rises

What about those infamous siestas? They're somewhat of a myth as well: a January 2017 study revealed that less than 18 percent of Spaniards nap regularly, while nearly 60 percent never take a siesta. This statistic is one reason why, in 2016, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced his plan of abolishing siestas in favor of a shorter work day (ending at around 6pm, versus 7 or 8pm). He also spoke of potentially switching back to the original GMT time zone.

For Spaniards, this would mean the sun would rise and set earlier, which José Luis Casero, president of the National Commission for the Rationalization of Spanish Schedules, feels is the healthier way to live: "The fact that the time in Spain doesn't correspond to the sun affects health, especially sleep," he says. "If we changed time zones, the sun would rise one hour earlier and we'd wake up more naturally, meal times would be one hour earlier and we'd get an extra hour's sleep." It would also give Spain less sunlight at night...but we're confident they'll still find a way to party.

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